Our 2020 Taxable Investment Income

It’s pretty simple. Max trades his time, energy, and skills to an organization. In exchange, I expect that organization to pay me money.

We sometimes refer to this as earned wages. But before it hits my pocket, my Uncle Sam takes his share. He calls it wages, salaries, and tips. These wages hit Line 1 of the 1040 tax form, and the government taxes us from there.

Whatever money is left lands in my pocket.

That’s Max’s back pocket

For a lot of us, it ends there. We live our life trading time for money.

But the money left over is called capital. It’s ours. We are free to spend it, save it, or invest it. Since I have always been interested in freeing myself from the need to work, I tend to focus on the latter. As such, I have elected to invest a substantial portion of our left-over earned wages over the years. In most years, well over 50% of our after-tax income has been saved and invested. Luckily, Mrs. Max OOP has been on board with this plan as well.

But just like trading my time for money, when I invest my capital, I expect a return for my investment. This return comes in the form of interest, dividends, or capital gains. Those land in my pocket too, but my Uncle Sam also wants a piece of this.

So how did we do in 2020? Since it is tax time, let’s take a peek.

Taxable Brokerage Income vs. Retirement Account Income

The majority of my investment activity over the years occurred in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Therefore, plenty of dividends and capital gains land in those accounts. But I do not need to worry about being taxed on that income for years. It’s not taxable until I retire, so I did not include it in the numbers below.  

The fact is, the majority of our passive investment income hits our retirement accounts.

That said, the last several years have seen a lot more investment activity in my taxable brokerage accounts. These accounts generate taxable dividends and taxable capital gains. These taxable investment returns are something worth keeping an eye on.

Ordinary Dividends

Dividends are generated when a company I own shares some of its earnings with me. In 2020, our ordinary dividends came in at $4,288. This number is up 35% from $3,168 in 2019.

We can break this $4,288 into three different buckets.

  • Qualified Dividends – $1,405
  • Non-Qualified Dividends – $2,029
  • Section 199A Dividends – $853

Max likes qualified dividends because they are efficient for tax purposes. The Max Out of Pocket crew paid a healthy 15% tax rate in 2020 for qualified dividends. Total market index funds held in my brokerage accounts generated most of these qualified dividends. 

My non-qualified dividends are not as sexy. They are taxed at a higher rate just like my regular earned income. More than 50% of the $2,029 in non-qualified dividends were generated by my “$100,000 opportunity fund” in late 2020. These dividends will be hit with a 22% tax, and it demonstrates just how tax-inefficient that fund is.

Finally, we can look at our Section 199A dividends. These get taxed just like regular earned income, but I get a special tax deduction on those. The medical office building REIT stock portfolio held in my taxable brokerage account generated almost all of the $853 in Section 199A dividends.

Capital Gains

A lot of people harvested capital losses when the market tanked back in March 2020. But for us, 2020 was a year to focus on positioning. I used 2020 to clean up our account structure and develop an investor policy statement. I sold some losers, moved around some winners, and cleared an $11,229 capital gain in the process.

Surprisingly, his number is flat compared to the $11,930 in capital gains we had in 2019. Almost all the 2019 capital gains were considered long-term and were taxed between 0-15%.

We were not so tax efficient in 2020.  

In 2020, about $6,911 of our capital gains were short-term capital gains, taxed like regular income.

Another $4,318 was long-term capital gains. Those will be taxed at 15%.

$6,911 (short term capital gain) + $4,318 (long term capital gain) = $11,229 total capital gain

Non-Dividend Distributions

Non-dividend distributions were a new concept for me in 2019. I received another $606 in non-dividend distributions in 2020, mostly from the medical office building REIT portfolio. This figure does not hit our tax return anywhere, so I did not count it as investment income. We won’t get taxed on it in 2020.

However, it is worth noting for cashflow purposes and I think there is a lot to explore here.

I received the $606 distribution in cold hard cash, but it also reduced my cost basis on that investment. Therefore, this will eventually come through as a capital gain on my tax return. We will pay 15% tax on that at some point, and maybe less if I plan carefully. 

Total Investment Income

So, our total investment income for 2020 came in at $15,517.

$4,288 Ordinary Dividends + $11,229 Capital Gains = $15,517

Unfortunately, that $15,517 is not free and clear. My Uncle Sam takes his piece before it hits my pocket.  

Federal Taxes

Thankfully, the Max Out of Crew doesn’t get hit with FICA taxes on our investment income. But we do get hit with federal income taxes.

In years past, I always prioritized tax efficiency on my investment income. I often accessed the 0% capital gain tax bucket early on in my investing career. In 2021, the long-term capital gain tax rate on taxable income under $80,800 is 0%. That’s a number young investors should keep an eye on.

But 2020 was a clean-up year, so I willingly paid a decent chunk of tax on this income to clean up my account structure and tighten up our investor policy statement. It was money well spent.

We will pay about $2,976 in taxes on this investment income from 2020. That only about 19%, and will leave us with $12,541 in our pocket.

$15,517 investment income – $2,976 taxes = $12,541 net income 

State Taxes

Our total state tax on investment income came in at $0.00.

The Max Out of Pocket crew has been hiding off-grid in one of the 9 states that have no income taxes. So, I did not need to worry about state taxes in 2020.

That said, my state does go after dividend income when it hits $4,800 for married couples. We have about $512 left in that bucket and will keep a close eye on things.

Final Thoughts

I sometimes want to tell everyone I know about passive investment income. Unfortunately, it seems odd to talk about this type of thing at parties. So I blog about it instead. And since it is tax season, now is a great time to review these things.

A lot of people complain about tax rates or how rich people get taxed. I usually assume a majority of those people don’t understand how they themselves get taxed. Since it impacts their day-to-day, it’s worth looking into.

Our total taxable investment income for 2020 came in at $15,517. This is up $419 from 2019 ($15,098).

After Uncle Sam took his share, we were left with $12,541 in our pocket. That covered over 27% of our 2020 expenses.

$12,541 Investment Income / $46,207 Expenses = 27%

As someone who considers himself just an Average Joe Max, I think this is pretty amazing. But I also know there are plenty of people out there that can easily 10X these figures.

Ultimately, I consider this 12,541 seeds. Seeds for us do to do as we please.

Okay, this was a bulb. But you get the point. I clearly don’t have a green thumb.

That $12,541 will be invested in other companies that will likely generate even more dividends and capital gains in future years. And I am just getting started; this number has years to grow.

How did your 2020 investment income look?


3 Responses

  1. David says:

    I’ve never heard of non-dividend distributions. I’m interested in learning whatever you find out about it.

    I’m also jealous of your state’s not taxing income. I suppose you pay for it other ways. When we lived in Washington state, every other year an income tax was proposed and promptly shutdown. While folks weren’t happy with the >9% sales tax and high property tax, they weren’t enthusiastic about taking on an income tax, even if it reduced those other taxes.

    • Max OOP says:

      Thanks, David. Outside of having to do our own dump runs for garbage and recycling, I like to think others are “paying for it in other ways” : ) We have had curb-side services everywhere else I have lived (Michigan, Tennessee, North Carolina).

      We don’t have any sales tax here either, which is really nice. Where they get us is with property taxes. Since we live in a modest rental where those taxes are in theory partially passed on to us, our state taxes are really negligible. If we owned the same house we had in North Carolina here, we would be getting hit pretty hard. Also, our cars are taxed, but since they are so old (07′ and 08′), right now we are in a sweet spot all the way around!


      • David says:

        No curbside service here, either. We pay Republic for trash. Basically our taxes are tied up in schools and roads. Our cars are ’00 and ’07 which as you say, leads to much smaller registration/tax fees.

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